March 22, 2012
Jays put their faith in Encarnacion
By MIKE RUTSEY, QMI Agency
DUNEDIN, FLA. - The Blue Jays aren’t sure how much juice is left in the Edwin Encarnacion lemon but general manager Alex Anthopoulos is determined to squeeze all that he has left out of it.
Encarnacion may not be a fan favourite, especially with the leather, but the Blue Jays retain plenty of faith in the 29-year-old designated hitter who can also play the corner infield positions plus a little left field.
Encarnacion is likely to hit fifth in the Jays lineup, behind first baseman Adam Lind and two spots back of his good friend and mentor Jose Bautista. That’s a power slot, a RBI slot and with it comes plenty of expectations.
Last season in 134 games (481 at-bats) Steady Eddie batted .272 with a team high 36 doubles, 17 homers and 55 RBIs.
This season will mark his fourth in a Jays uniform and he only costs the Jays $3.5 million, a $1.5 million bump from last season.
It’s a bargain-basement price for what the Jays believe could come.
“We believe that there’s still more there and he’s shown it to us whether it’s been for a half season or two or three months,” Anthopoulos said Thursday of the Jays continued love affair with Encarnacion. “We all know he’s got tremendous raw power. He’s a guy that has the ability to work the count and take a walk and he also has, for a power hitter, great hand-eye (co-ordination). There’s not a lot of swing and miss to him.
“So from that standpoint he’s still young (29) and there’s more in there. From our standpoint it made sense to bring him back, the contract value. We still see there’s some upside there because he’s capable of doing more. He hasn’t performed poorly, it’s been close to an .800 OPS two years in a row. He has the ability to play some first, some third and a little bit of left and he can DH. We just think there’s more in there.”
Encarnacion has always been something of an enigmatic figure. First he tantalized the Reds with a .289 average and 76 RBIs in 2007 while the following season he belted 26 homers and drove in 68 runs. He hasn’t hit those totals with the Jays but he did have them salivating following his 2010 season when in just 332 at-bats, he stroked 21 homers and drove in 51 runs.
Bautista, like his general manager, believes that Encarnacion brings a lot to the table.
“I know Edwin has always put 100% forward when it comes to effort, worth ethic and his desire to come through for the team and himself,” Bautista said. “I think he’s done pretty well given the circumstances of his opportunities with him having to deal with injuries, being sent down and called back up and persevering through all of that.
“I think his numbers since he’s been traded (from the Reds) are pretty decent. Up to his standards? I’m sure he’d say that he could do better so hopefully with more consistent at-bats he can give a more consistent approach and get better results.”
In his time with the Jays, Encarnacion has had periods where he has had to battle for playing time and as any player will tell you that makes it just that much harder for a player to establish consistency.
No player knows that more than Bautista, who earlier in his career faced the same dilemma with the Pirates.
“It was tough for me when I played (not every day) and I’m sure it’s tough on him,” Bautista said. “That’s what gets you through your slumps because (when you play regularly) you have hot streaks that are going to overshadow those slumps that are inevitable.
“He’s going to be fine. He just needs to go out there on a daily basis ... I’m sure his numbers are going to look very nice at the end of the year.”
As far as what kind of numbers Bautista believes Encarnacion is capable of, he’s keeping that to himself.
“I’m not big on predictions and setting goals as far as statistics and numbers,” Bautista said. “But I think Edwin’s going to be all right. He’s shown what he’s capable of doing. But it’s been a while since he’s had a whole season on the field with no interruptions.
“So it will be exciting to see.”